Telomeres Could Tell Us Why We Get Old, And How To Stop It

Have you ever stopped to think about the length of your telomeres? These caps of DNA sit on the ends of your chromosomes, which are located in the nuclei of all your cells. Each time one of your cells divides, these telomeres become a tiny bit shorter, losing their capacity to protect the genetic material inside the chromosome. Once they become too short, the cell cannot divide anymore. This process is correlated with aging, though it's unknown whether it causes aging or is merely another sign of it. Some scientists believe that lengthening one's telomeres could add years to their lifespan. On the other hand, some think that controlling the activity of telomerase-an enzyme that that adds to the ends of telomeres-could help counteract or prevent cancer. Cancerous cells divide often, and can produce telomerase to keep their telomeres from shortening too much. Halting this production could cause tumor cells to die.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. On average, a human cell can divide about 50 times before becoming senescent, or inactive. 01:53

  2. Every time human a cell divides, its chromosomes lose about 200 base pairs of nucleotides off of their telomeres. 02:52

  3. Cancer cells have long telomeres, and can divide indefinitely with the help of the enzyme telomerase. 04:37

Written by Curiosity Staff January 21, 2016

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